“You cannot win a nuclear war” – Threads Remastered (Blu-Ray Review)

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Set in Sheffield, in the north of England, Threads is a 1984 drama about a nuclear apocalypse and the effects upon the populace as authorities try to retain a modicum of control whilst the people try to exist in a stark new world.

Threads: Remastered includes the original TV film along with a director approved widescreen remaster.  This BluRay release is remastered in 2K from the BBC CRI 16mm original print.

Written by Barry Hines (the writer of Kes), it’s a stark story of the fear of the Soviet Union’s nuclear might realised in an attack upon the United Kingdom whilst Jimmy and Ruth work through their own life-changing events. Hines creates an effect drama of two parts, a kitchen sink drama of young love and challenges of life against the backdrop of the devastation of a nuclear attack. Interspersed with a matter-of-fact voiceover, this isn’t a story of hope and joy, but one of the realities of heightened international tensions, nuclear apocalypse and the powerlessness of those it affects.

We get to see, over the decade following the attack, the collapse of civilisation and the frantic fight for survival and it’s all brought to the screen effectively and, at times, chillingly. The first act follows the everyday life of Jimmy and Ruth, largely oblivious to the news of heightened tensions whilst they focus on their own future.  The second act goes from the attempts to prepare for the attack to how quickly the attack comes and how a ravaged Britain rapidly falls, whilst the final act is the darkest, with the future of the majority already sealed and the few survivors battling the fallout and each other to continue living.

We see authorities attempting to maintain control even as the human spirit wanes and is finally extinguished.  The devastation is even more heartbreaking as you see the preparations that people have made failing in the first few minutes and the aftermath as the years move on is even bleaker, made more so by the documentary style narration and factual statements of the effect of a 300 megaton attack and the difficulty of subsisting in the irradiated UK.

Simply Media describe Threads as shocking the nation when it first aired on BBC Two in 1984 at the height of Cold War nuclear paranoia and became one of the most significant and iconic films ever produced by the BBC. It was nominated for seven BAFTAs in 1985, winning four including Best Single Drama.

There can be no doubt that this was the case, and it’s certainly backed up with the PDFs of letters of correspondence on the BluRay. If anything it showed that despite all the best endeavours of those in power, we’re unprepared for the inevitable fallout of a nuclear attack, that sometimes politics and military power isn’t enough and that civilisation can easily be unseated in favour of the feral quest for survival.

As the tensions heighten, the true impact of what is going on draws closer to the people of Sheffield. With the attack reducing Sheffield to chaos, large-scale destruction and the collapse of infrastructure, the authorities are trapped yet still try to be in control whilst the people suffer from the effect of radiation. The spread of disease is rife, as is civil unrest and a new era of criminality as people leave their homes. Friends and family are torn apart and the sense of hope and community fail as food and water become more scarce and a new means of barter.

By the end of Threads, there’s no hope, even if life goes on with a final scene that is genuinely chilling.  Barry Hines script isn’t an uplifting tale and it really didn’t need to be.  The creation of a destroyed Sheffield, complete with broken, charred and destroyed bodies amongst the wreckage of its buildings is a testament to the lengths the creators went to hitting every beat of the film home to the viewer.  The performances from the central cast and the many extras are commendable; there’s no sense of this being anything but a well-crafted drama documentary with no soap opera style overacting, just pure drama throughout.  As medical staff and local officials try to keep control, you get a real sense of their professionalism, even against the ever-worsening conditions.  The men, women and children genuinely feel like they’ve suffered unimaginable horrors and the camera work captures it all, giving it an even greater impact.

It’s an incredibly well-executed drama with elements of a documentary that stands the test of time and deserves to be seen by a whole new generation.

BBC had previously created a post-apocalyptic drama in the form of The War Game, which gives an equally bleak dramatisation of the reality of nuclear war. Banned from broadcast at the time, it did receive a limited cinematic run and presented a story free of the glamour of hope. Threads can be seen as a nod towards this 1965 docudrama, modernising the story and driving home the point with its powerful combination of global, national and local events, from the need for positivity from the government to the impotent rage of the people as society collapses.

The extras across the two-disc set are exceptional. An audio commentary from Karen Meagher and one from Mick Jackson give true insight into the film from the position of the one of the key actors and the director, an insight that hasn’t faded in more than thirty years and covers the highs and lows of the experience, from its ambition to the tense atmosphere behind the scenes.  There’s also a collection of featurettes – Shooting the Annihilation, Auditioning for the Apocalypse, Destruction Designer, Stephen Thrower on Threads – that offer even more background into creating one of the darkest dramas of its time.

Dir: Mick Jackson
Scr: Barry Hines
Cast: Reese Dinsdale, Karen Meagher
Prd: Mick Jackson
DOP: Andrew Dunn, Paul Morris
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1984
Runtime: 112 mins

Threads: Remastered is out now on BluRay and DVD